Your Voice, Your Vote: The future of Ipswich town centre

People walking up and down Westgate in Ipswich in winter
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Big name retailers have left Ipswich town centre in recent years

  • Published

Ipswich town centre has arguably seen better days.

The department store BHS shut up shop in 2016 and retailers Debenhams, H&M and Wilko followed suit after the first Covid-19 lockdown.

June Lawford-Randall lives in nearby Shotley Gate and got in touch with the BBC via Your Voice, Your Vote to tell us this was one of the most important issues for her ahead of the general election.

"Ipswich is a beautiful, historic town which has been sorely let down by shops closing," she said.

Image source, Ben Parker/BBC
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The Debenhams store has been vacant since 2021 and is up for sale

Ms Lawford-Randall added: "What is being done to regenerate the town centre to encourage the return of people to enjoy the Ipswich experience?

"Regeneration and reduced rents should make it easier for new ventures to survive and for more homes to utilise the unused space."

Parliamentarians and central government are not directly responsible for our town centres, but they can shape legislation and provide investment.

In alphabetical order by surname, here is what the candidates from the main parties standing in Ipswich said.

Jack Abbott, Labour

Image source, Ipswich Labour
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Mr Abbott said Labour would provide stability for small business owners

Mr Abbott said: "I know the value of small and independent businesses here in Ipswich.

"A Labour government will deliver the environment that local businesses need to thrive: a strong economy, policy certainty, investment in people and places, as well as action on the things holding firms back.

"We'll stamp down on late payments, replace business rates with a fairer system, tackle anti-social behaviour and give councils greater powers to take over empty shops.

"There’s a clear choice at this election for small business owners in Ipswich: more chaos with the Conservatives or stability with Labour."

Tom Hunt, Conservative

Image source, Andrew Sinclair/BBC
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Mr Hunt said a more significant police presence in Ipswich town centre was needed

Mr Hunt said he often heard of people choosing to shop in a different town centre

"I think it’s important we face up to this," he said.

“The Labour-led council should cut car parking charges and the government also need to look at radically changing the way business rates work.

“However, the reality is that thousands of Ipswich residents don’t feel safe and comfortable going into the town centre."

He added: "Not only do we need to further boost police presence but we need [to] crack down far harder on those undermining the town centre experience for the majority."

According to Suffolk Police, 1,994 crimes were reported in the Westgate and St Margaret's area - which covers part of the town centre including Christchurch Park - in the last 12 months.

However, that figure represented a slight drop compared with the total for the last three years in the neighbourhood.

Tony Love, Reform UK

Image source, Reform UK
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Mr Love said car parking fees should be reduced in the town

Mr Love said he had run high street businesses across seven towns over the course of 35 years and said he had been "shocked" by responses when talking about the town centre with people over the last fortnight.

"Too many people have told me they no longer visit the town centre, especially women, who feel intimidated and vulnerable," he said.

"Shoplifting is rife, drug taking and dealing is everywhere.

"The police should enforce a zero-tolerance policy and the council enforce ‘special protection’ powers.

"Car park fees should be reduced and the streets [kept] cleaner and free of weeds."

Adria Pittock, Green Party

Image source, Green Party
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Ms Pittock suggested talking to "diverse" groups for ideas on how to improve the town centre

Ms Pittock said she wanted to see a "serious effort" to encourage small businesses back to the town, such as by reviewing businesses rates.

"For so many people, the congestion in town is really problematic; we need to encourage more people to come into town via public transport," she said.

"There are some spaces now that I think we should be turning into accommodation in the town and encourage residents to move back into town.

"We've got some great community groups, some very diverse groups in the town; let's talk to them and find out what they want to help make the town better."

James Sandbach, Liberal Democrats

Image source, Imogen Lee/BBC
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Mr Sandbach said Conservative candidate Tom Hunt had "whipped up" concerns about crime in the town centre

Mr Sandbach said the town centre debate "needs more of a 'whole of Ipswich' focus", reviewing parks, green spaces and leisure facilities.

"[The] loss of retail is affecting many town centres not just Ipswich," Mr Sandbach said.

"But we should promote [the] boutique sector which has potential for more development rather than chains - and there are already lots of chains in the out of town shopping parks."

Ipswich should be sold as the "heart and hub of Suffolk", he added.

"Concerns about crime, homelessness, immigration etc, impacting the town centre have all been grossly overstated and whipped up quite disgracefully by Tom Hunt - a real priority for me is more local support needed to tackle cost of living issues," he continued.

"Homelessness [and] shoplifting etc are a symptom of rising poverty and need a stronger social policy response with more support to the voluntary sector."

Also standing in Ipswich is Terence Charles for the Heritage Party and Freddie Sofar for the Communist Party of Britain.

A full list of candidates can be found here.

What really matters to you in this general election? What is the one issue that will influence your vote? Click the button below to submit your idea, and it could be featured on the BBC.

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This closed on 4th July 2024.

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